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August 12, 2011
The Globe & Mail - print & online
August 12, 2011
Britain has gone to prayer over the mess in its soul. Let secular advocates protest against the intrusion of the spiritual into this crisis, but Britons have made it clear that what’s emerged during the riots is a greater need than any political solution can provide for.
On Tuesday, #prayforlondon was the world’s top Twitter trend. That night in Tottenham, where the riots all began, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders gathered the public before their God in a rally for hope. Now a nightly call for prayer across the country asks citizens to plead with the Almighty for “peace among us, peace within us, peace in our nation.”
The Church of England distributed its post-riot prayer guide via Facebook and websites, while the Archbishop of Westminster asked Catholics to “play their part with clear principles for living … with honesty, compassion and prayer.” On Saturday afternoon, all London is invited to “Prayers for a Broken Nation” at Westminster Methodist Central Hall. The list of spiritual concern goes on.
Surely British Prime Minister David Cameron is sighing an amen. As impressive as his list of “fighting back measures,” no one can expect government to have all the answers for what Mr. Cameron cited as the root cause of the rioting: “Mindless selfishness … people [who] feel that the world owes them something, that their rights outweigh their responsibilities.”
If churches are worth their calling, expect them to soon move beyond the prayers and cleanup into some pretty tough preaching to address Mr. Cameron’s concerns. Those issues are spiritual ones, the issues of sin, and they need a spiritual solution.
At Birmingham City Mission, executive director Wes Erpen lost the battle to keep the regular food service running for the homeless during the riots, but he stayed on the streets with his workers, listening to fears and offering prayers. Long familiar with other root causes of social deprivation and despair, a system of lenient justice, and disconnects for those who tore his city apart, he concluded: “The real need in this situation is ultimately for the Gospel.”
The Gospel he speaks of has been preached for centuries in Britain and is very specific about what it offers. The Gospel says God is initiating an intervention into humanity’s mindset and gives rational evidence in proof of claims, character and Resurrection that people are loved by God. It’s also specific that personal choices are filled with sin.
As Britain’s churches explain the purpose of Jesus in absolving sin, personal responsibility before God is given a whole new light. This inner work can never be addressed by police or politicians, but it’s a spiritual justice reset that, if taken seriously, deeply affects character and actions. It’s a salvation message that will be preached at large across the pulpits of Britain.
One of Britain’s greatest thinkers on the Gospel died just days before the riots began. John Stott’s 1952 lectures at Cambridge University turned into a bestseller, Basic Christianity, and he always maintained we all had a weakness when it came to the spiritual.
“God’s chief quarrel with man is that he does not seek,” he wrote. The riots may have interrupted that complacency. They’ve certainly been a catalyst in inspiring the church to help people find a source for the ethics of personal responsibility. All the prayer taking place is proof that some kind of spiritual search has begun for the peace that’s obviously missing.
Lorna Dueck is host of Context with Lorna Dueck TV.
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